The Silvertown TNT Plant Explosion
The most powerful explosion ever to occur in London took place on January 19 1917 when a munitions factory in Silvertown, West Ham , was flattened by the blast from more than 50 tons of TNT.
A factory handling other noxious chemicals had stood on the site since 1893, converted to war work when a shortage of TNT was severely restricting British use of artillery on the Western Front. The factory owners, Brunner Mond, had been less than keen on the project, partly no doubt as their chemist who invented the particular process used in producing TNT there knew it to be inherently dangerous.
In the early evening of January 19 a fire broke out in the plant; warning was sent to residents nearby to evacuate, which some heeded immediately. At 6.52pm a massive explosion destroyed the factory, sent red hot metal debris flying over the capital causing a subsequent explosion of a gas holder in Greenwich and many fires; and totally destroyed 900 houses, shops and factories in the immediate area, plus the local fire station. Some 73 people died and more than 400 were injured in the blast, so huge it was heard as far away as Norwich and Southampton .
The event was doubly tragic in that another plant, purpose built, had made the output of the Silvertown factory negligible, the unit probably only kept going as a back-up.
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